Saturday, 29 December 2018

Boss Cat

Is it true that Top Cat was really known as Boss Cat when it first aired in England? The answer: yes.

At the time the cartoon series was made, there was a brand of kitty food in the U.K. known as “Top Cat.” The BBC, in an attempt to avoid any hint of commercialism, changed the show’s name to The Boss Cat (and later omitted the article). To the right you see the TV listings for June 13, 1962, which was perhaps when the series made its debut.

This begs the question about how the Auntie aired the cartoon. Was the voice track altered with “Top Cat” removed and a voice edited in saying “Boss Cat?” What about the theme song and the opening and closing titles?

As ridiculous as it sounds, the soundtrack was left intact. Kid audiences were apparently supposed to deal with the confusion by bearing the old British stiff upper lip. The credits were dealt with by having a title card jarringly edited into Ken Muse’s animation. You can see for yourself below.



One English critic was not going to put up with the BBC’s foolishness. Here’s a portion of the television column from The Spectator of December 21, 1962 dealing with, in part, the Hanna-Barbera prime time shows.

Child’s-Play
By CLIFFORD HANLEY

‘TOP CAT’ has returned, an even which clearly has more importance for television’s largest audience than any of the high-toned experiments in drama or education on either channel. Non-human heroes continue to have the edge over mere people among the youngest viewers, and I regularly confirm this old discovery by sitting with my back to the screen and watching my sample audience during the children’s programmes.
‘Top Cat’ interests me strangely too. (The BBC retitles the show Boss Cat, for reasons which I have not discovered.) It seems we aren’t going to have any more Bilko, but the immortal sergeant lives on in this two-dimensional moggie, which doesn’t only speak with Bilko’s voice but has the Bilko character precisely duplicated, including the cunning, the idiot lechery, the gambling fever and the loyal suckers gathered round him.
Is it possible that this represents a Trend? Even the best human series wears out in time...But you never have any trouble, personal-releations-wise, with line drawing....
The case of the Flintstones is not really so different. Barney and his mates are, if I may use the phrase very loosely, original creations. But take away the prehistoric gimmick and all you’ve got left is a perfectly ordinary old-fashioned domestic situation comedy, a Lucy-Joan-Jeannie amalgam. Thus form of entertainment, with human beings, died of inanition over five years ago, but the cartoon reincarnation isn’t only durable, it has capture an intellectual audience which would never have wasted a moment on live Lucy.
As an old cheap gag-writer I find the Flintstones wearisome, and I feel I ought to disapprove of them in principle, as I disapprove of ‘Top Cat.’ All the same, I find myself watching both programmes with a puzzled interest if they catch my eye. I too am a sucker.
Incidentally, Top Cat had unexpected competition on ITV Border Television, which served the area along the England-Scotland boundary. John Holmstrom wrote in the British publication New Statesman in its issue of April 3, 1964, referring to children’s television:
The most entertaining things just now – and it’s a sad reflection on our native talent – are the American animal cartoons. Boss Cat (BBC) is great fun, but A-R’s 5.25 Friday session is richer, featuring Quick Draw McGraw (Eccles-voiced horse sheriff), Snooper and Blabber (imperturbable cat-and-mouse sleuthing partnership) and Auggie Doggie (sneaky pip with moralising Pa). The scripts are splendidly outrageous parodies of favourite Hollywood styles. It’s superb for adults, and kids, missing some of the side-swipes, rightly relish the puns and slapstick.
The BBC put out Boss Cat in August 1967; the show was the network’s third-ranked children’s programme at the time with an audience of 2.4 million (number one, incidentally, was Dr. Who). The series returned, as Boss Cat, to the beeb four years later. In the meantime, the series began airing in November 1969 on R.T.E. in Ireland as Top Cat; certainly the Irish weren’t about to let some Englishmen tell them how to air a TV show. The BBC seems to have continued using Boss Cat as late as 1989, according to listings in The Guardian. However, from what I gather from reader Andrew Morrice, the term fell into disuse some time ago.

One other Top Cat-related note: animation historian Jerry Beck recently told webtv host Stu Shostak that Warner Home Video is putting out Jonny Quest on Blu-ray with the correct closing titles. He says depending on sales, Warner may release “single-season, Hanna-Barbera prime-time series” on Blu-ray as well. Does this mean “Where’s Huddles?” No. Does this mean “Wait ‘Til Your Father Gets Home”? No. That doesn’t leave an awful lot, except for The Jetsons and, yes, Top Cat. Could they be next? Jerry’s not hinting but, and I have absolutely no clue, but as Mr. Kitzel used to say on the Al Pearce radio show, “Hmmmm, could be.....”

7 comments:

  1. Could it be Jokebook? Nah. Moving on..

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  2. Even there they got the same old "Kin Platt Ending Credits"?

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  3. I'd heard about the whole Boss/Top thing but I'd never actually seen evidence of it on TV. For a good while all I had of the show was a VHS and digging that out inspired me to purchase more in teh mid-90s. None had a trace of 'Boss' anywhere. Then BBC2 and also cartoon Network's subsiduary channel Boomerang started re-running the show in the late 90s and for at least 6 years beyond that. Again, no sign of 'Boss. I'm assuming by the 90s, the cat food had been discontinued so was no longer an issue. I never saw it shops either dispite always having cats!

    As I say, I'd certainly heard of the title change, but was surprised it ran as late as 1989. It's mentioned as 'Boss Cat' in 'Colin's Sandwich' a BBC sitcom starring Mel Smith that aired in 1988-1990 for one example.

    What I also found interesting is that on the Top Cat DVD commentaries, although the historians were aware of the change, they did not know why it happened.

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  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Top_Cat_(brand)

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  5. I remember watching Boss Cat in the '60s and wondering why the lyrics said Top Cat, but I didn't remember the inserted title card with the name change and always assumed (looking back) that it was only TV listings and announcers that referred to Boss Cat. I became aware of the reason for the name change a few years later, but can't recall exactly how many. Still, thanks for reminding me so long after the event of something from childhood.

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  6. YOWP, Mr. Hanley has a good point. When you think about it, Fred and Barney weren't really copies of Ralph and Ed as much as they were male versions of Lucy and Ethel.

    Bill and Joe did always incorporate TV shows they liked into their animated series - ''I Love Lucy'', ''Honeymooners'', ''Bilko'', ''Blondie'', ''The Beverly Hillbillies'', ''I Dream of Jeannie'', ''Lassie''. If they could, the would make a cartoon version of ''What's my line?''. They made so many references to the program on ''The Flintstones'' (Daisy Killgranite; Barney: Fred, this guy is a burglar. Fred: BArney, this ain't ''What's my line?''), ''Snagglepuss'' (the ''What's My Lion?" episode which had nothing to do with the show) and ''The Jetsons'' (Mr. Spacely: You've heard of the mystery guest. Well, I'm the mystery judge.)

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